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June 21, 2010

Online Dating: Behind the Scenes

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/behind_the_scenes_online_dating_20100621/

Photo

Cliff Lerner, CEO of SNAP Interactive, in front of the SLS hotel on June 18, 2010

Online dating is a hot topic, a sub-culture in of itself.  But imagine the people who are behind it.  The people for whom coming up with new strategies and applications and designs for online dating is their job.

I got a peek into this culture on Friday at the 7th annual West Coast Internet Dating Conference at the SLS hotel in Beverly Hills. The registration fee is USD $1275 per person for the basic conference package.

Cliff Lerner, 32, [Jewish] co-founder of SNAP Interactive was my gregarious guide.  He wasn’t presenting at the conference, but he flew in from NYC and went to the Miami conference earlier this year.  In 2005, Lerner quit his job at Lehman Brothers and started AreYouInterested.com with his brother, based in New York City.  What they offered was unique because it facilitated double dating and group dating based on coordination of people’s schedules.

“A lot of people at that time were scared to meet people off the internet,” Lerner says.

However, in August of 2007 they launched a Facebook application, that enabled people to privately check off friends that they might be romantically interested in, and would only be notified if they had a match with that friend.  Essentially, it was an easy, low-risk way to find out if your friends like-liked you.

Within a week, the application had over 1 million users.  And, the company’s revenue doubled that year.

Lerner credits the creativity of the idea, along with the ease with which Facebook apps were self-marketed on Facebook.  He sees more stringent privacy precautions taken by Facebook in the last few months have made it less easy for an app to ‘go viral” on it’s own these days.

Nevertheless, the Facebook app was complemented by an iPhone app, which worked together seamlessly, that now allows users to find other users within their immediate proximity.

Now they have over 15 million viewers (50% in Europe, with significant numbers in the UK, Israel, and South Africa), revenue of over $5 million annually, with 16 in-house programmers.  The average user spends 30 minutes per day on their site.  They launched a subscription service in December 2009 with added features, and they also offer virtual gifts, so that suitors can prove their affection by putting their money where their mouth is; by spending anywhere from $2 to $50 per gift.

“It allows me to stand out in your inbox,” Lerner explains.

Lerner leads me into the final discussion of the conference.  Along the way we meet Ukrainian Max Polyakov, COO of Easy Date which he says just went public (and Polyakov mentions that they recently bought cupid.com).  Then we sit in a lecture hall with a panel of “experts,” while unlimited refills of beer are handed out.  The intention behind this, Lerner explains, is to facilitate a frat-like environment so people feel like they are a bunch of frat guys sharing secrets and strategies.  But really it is a room full of mostly 40-somethings.

Two panelists of note:  One was Tai Lopez, who shared an amusing quote: “You can be a nudist.  You can be a Buddhist.  But you can’t be a nudist Buddhist; that’s just too weird.”  This quote was an analogy to online dating companies undertaking multiple experimental strategies at once; such as with mobile apps or their websites.

Violet Lim pointed out that the Singapore government gives grants to online dating companies that are incorporated and doing work in Singapore, since that government is especially interested in facilitating matches and proliferating its next generations of citizens.  She encouraged all in the room to consider doing business in Singapore as a gateway to Asia.

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